Protected sites and wildlife face a barrage of illegal threats from damage or potential destruction – meaning EU governments are set to miss their own goal of stopping nature loss by 2020.

Today a group of NGOs is calling on European Commissioner for the Environment Karmenu Vella to show some love for nature and intervene on protected sites where EU environmental law is not being properly enforced.

The campaign groups point to sites such as Kresna Gorge in Bulgaria which is threatened by a motorway, Limni beach in Cyprus at risk from large-scale tourism development and Lake Koroneia in Greece which has been damaged by illegal water abstraction and pollution.

With just a few months left of the Environment Commissioner’s mandate, the European Environmental Bureau, BirdLife Europe, WWF European Policy Office, and Friends of the Earth Europe, are calling on the Maltese Commissioner to “leave a lasting legacy for nature” by dramatically stepping up efforts to improve implementation and enforcement of EU nature laws.

Andreas Baumüller, Head of Natural Resources at WWF European Policy Office, said that it is “make or break time” for Commissioner Vella and that he “must stand-up for nature protection and take decisive actions to ensure the Nature Directives are fully implemented”.

Europe’s nature remains in dramatic decline – just this week a landmark study revealed that the world faces ‘insectagedon’ with more than 40% of insect species in decline and a third endangered, which scientists say could lead to a “catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems”.

The researchers point to intensive agriculture as the main driver of insect extinction. Ariel Brunner, Senior Head of Policy at BirdLife Europe, said that the “deeply flawed Common Agricultural Policy is a stain on the EU’s reputation and a major driving force behind the collapse of biodiversity on the continent”.

“The EU’s Environment Commissioner has only one job to do – to protect the environment,” said Adrian Bebb, Senior Food and Agriculture Campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe. “But Europe’s precious nature faces death by a thousand cuts. The European Commission needs to use the full force of the EU nature laws to challenge illegal destruction, or we’ll never have a chance to halt the loss of our biodiversity.”

The European Commission is the body responsible for enforcing EU nature protection laws, and referring governments to the EU Court of Justice (ECJ) when laws are breached, often making the EU executive nature’s last line of defence. At the end of January, the European Commission announced it is taking the Spanish government to the EU’s top court for breaching EU nature and water laws in Andalucía’s Doñana National Park where environmentalists have been campaigning for nine years to highlight the serious damage to precious wetlands from pollution, dredging and illegal irrigation. The decision to take Spain to court comes five years after infringement proceedings began in 2014.

EU nature protection laws – the Birds and Habitats Directives – have played a major role in ensuring that some of the most valuable and endangered habitats and species in Europe are preserved, in particular through the largest network of protected areas in the world – the Natura 2000 network – which now covers over one fifth of EU land and nearly a tenth of its seas. But a 2016 evaluation of the Nature Directives revealed that far too little has been done to implement and enforce them.

And when it comes to rivers, lakes, and wetlands, only 40% of EU waters are currently considered to be in good health. Campaigners warn that some EU governments are making moves to weaken the EU’s groundbreaking water protection law. Sergiy Moroz, Senior Policy Officer for Water and Biodiversity at the European Environmental Bureau, said that “the European Commission and Commissioner Vella must take their role as the guardian of the EU’s groundbreaking water law seriously and resist [this] pressure”.

Moroz said EU governments must “address agriculture pollution head on and restore our rivers damaged by hydropower dams”.

So far over 285,000 people have taken part in an online campaign to uphold strong water protection rules in the EU.